ONE in six pregnant women in the North East are still smokers when they give birth, it has been revealed.

NHS figures show 4,330 of the 26,516 women in the region who gave birth in 2017/18 were smokers at the time of their delivery, despite an increased risks to both the mother and baby’s health.

Smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and low birth-weight, and maternal smoking after birth has been linked with a threefold increase in the risk of sudden infant death.

Experts have warned that budget cuts have “eroded the support that women need”.

Ailsa Rutter, director of North East anti-smoking campaign Fresh, said: “When a woman smokes during pregnancy or when she is exposed to second-hand smoke, oxygen to the baby is restricted.

“This makes the baby’s heart work faster and exposes the baby to harmful toxins. As a result, exposure to smoke in pregnancy is responsible for an increased rate of stillbirths, miscarriages and birth defect.“The good news is that the North East has seen the biggest fall in smoking during pregnancy in England, from 22 per cent of women in 2009/10 to 16 per cent in 2018.

“But smoking rates among pregnant women remain too high in the region and what we need to drive this down is action through the NHS to ensure every pregnant woman who smokes is given a consistent level of support to quit, wherever she lives.Making further progress to reduce maternal smoking is a key priority for the Local Maternity System across the North East.  National NICE guidance recommends that all midwives raise smoking in the same way they talk about other baby safety issues, use CO monitoring to check high levels of carbon monoxide, and refer anyone who smokes to support to quit.”  

South Tyneside posted the worst numbers in the region, with almost 20 per cent of new mothers smoking at the time they gave birth.

The figure was 18.2 per cent in Durham, 17.8 per cent in Sunderland, and 13.4 per cent in Northumberland.

In Newcastle, there were 482 women in 2017/18 who were smoking at the time of delivery and another 304 in Gateshead – both equivalent to 15.1per cent.

North Tyneside was the best-performing borough, with only 11.3per cent– which is still above the England average of 10.8per cent.

The figures are for mothers who gave birth past the 24-week gestation mark including those who delivered twins and stillborn babies.

Modern records go back to 2010/11, when one in five women in the region was classed as being a smoker at the time they gave birth.

Coun Tracey Dixon, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for independence and wellbeing, said that her borough’s latest figures show that smoking  among full-term pregnant women has now fallen to 13.1per cent.

She added: “We do a great deal of work to encourage mothers to be smoke-free, quit smoking all together as well as raising awareness of the wider dangers of smoking while pregnant and this is having a positive impact in driving down smoking rates among this group.”

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser for the National Childbirth Trust, said: “Smoking cessation support is now being funded under local authorities as opposed to public health.

“We know that local authority budgets cuts have eroded the support that women need and that’s why we’re seeing little progress.”

Claire Livingstone, professional policy advisor for The Royal College of Midwives, said many health trusts are short on midwives who can help women to stop smoking.

She said: “The government need to provide sufficient funding to reverse the cuts already made to public health, and ensure fit for purpose services are available to all who need them in the future.”

Both the NHS and Public Health England were contacted for comment.